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In Memoriam: Sam Zaman (1965-2015)

London-based producer and founder of the collective Shiva Soundsystem, Nerm, looks back at State of Bengal’s influence on the UK music scene

Rolling Stone India
Rolling Stone India May 23, 2015
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Sam from State of Bengal. Photo: Courtesy of PUMA Social Club

Sam from State of Bengal. Photo: Courtesy of PUMA Social Club

nerm

Nerm

It cannot be underestimated how influential Sam Zaman and his alter-ego as State Of Bengal was to a whole generation.

When Asian Underground emerged as a scene in the mid to late 90s, it changed the way people from the Indian subcontinent were perceived in the West. It helped push back against decades of racial aggression and restored an overwhelming sense of pride in our shared culture. It fundamentally altered everything – the way we dressed, the way we danced, who we fucked [he’d hate me saying that]. Like any movement, there were many sources, but it could easily be said that a lot of it sprung directly from the one-off, self-produced, acetate vinyls of Sam Zaman.

Sam Zahman was the engine, the DJ, the beating heart of Anokha, the famous club night and compilation album [1997] that really launched the term “Asian Underground” onto the world, with Talvin Singh as the head and Sweety Kapoor, its arms.

It was Sam’s music that made people openly cry on the dance floor. With a new sound; a combination of UK Underground dance music and Eastern promise, that, as diametrically opposed to blinging Bhangra and overbaked Bollywood, was finally, mercifully what we all craved.

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Ravers at Anokha included David Bowie and Bjork, the latter who helped sign Sam to the same label as her, One Little Indian Records, leading to his seminal solo album Visual Audio. There are many words written about this album that are clearly better than mine, but let me just say that tunes like “IC-408” [also sampled by Talvin on his first album, the pre-cursor to the Anokha sound Calcutta Cyber Cafe], “Elephant Ride,” “Rama Communication” and “Chittagong Chill” were THE template, THE highest watermark of music produced by anyone South Asian up to that point.

I was lucky enough to consider Sam a friend and work with him on a few occasions.

My favourite memory is when he headlined one of my events called “United Mutiny” celebrating India, Pakistan and Bangladesh’s Independence. We’d had a bit of a disagreement in the weeks before, an argument he was completely right about, and me as an arrogant early 20-something, needed to be put in my place. He came and delivered one of the most blistering, powerful, and just incredible sets I’ve ever heard. It was like looking into the future and a history lesson at the same time. That put me in my place alright!

Sam had a lot of struggles in his life: against racists and bigots in East London to struggles against the music industry in general across the world. He dealt with them all in his own way: unapologetically, uncompromisingly and without fear. He turned those struggles to a positive for so many local youths in East London who still consider him a mentor.

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This is something that I respect to this day. I’ve made certain compromises that [as someone that views himself as an in-your-face, uninhibited punk]  still make me wonder what would have been if I’d have continued to be as fearless as Sam always was.

Until the end, that fearlessness remained and he continued to be as prolific with his musical collaborators and engage with the community. A true visionary, warrior and public servant.

Nerm is one of the founders and producer of London-based DJ collective Shiva Soundsystem

Here’s a podcast Nerm recorded with Zaman in 2007

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